Heart of the World
Heart of the World
Prologue: Don Ignatio
The circumstances under which the following pages come to be printed are somewhat curious and worthy of record. Within the last few years a certain English gentleman, whom we will call Jones, because it was not his name, chanced to be employed as the manager of a mine not far from the Usumacinto River, the upper reaches of which divide the Mexican State of Chiapas from the Republic of Guatemala.
Now life at a mine in Chiapas, though doubtless it has some compensations, does not altogether fulfil a European's ideal of happiness. To begin with, the work is hard, desperately hard, and though the climate is healthy enough among the mountains, there are valleys where men may die of fever. Of sport, strictly speaking, there is none, for the forests are too dense to hunt in with any comfort, and, if they were not, the swarms of venomous insects of various degree, that haunt them, would make this particular relaxation impossible.
Society also, as we understand it, is conspicuous by its absence, and should a man chance even to be married, he could not well bring his wife into regions that are still very unsettled, across forest paths, through rivers, and along the brinks of precipices, dangerous and impassable enough to strike terror to the heart of the stoutest traveller.
When Mr. Jones had dwelt for a year at the mines of La Concepcion, the fact of his loneliness, and a desire for acquaintances more congenial than the American clerk of the stores and his Indian labourers, came home to him with some force. During the first months of his residence he had attempted to make friends with the owners of some neighbouring fincas or farms. This attempt, however, he soon gave up in disgust, for these men proved to be half-breeds of the lowest class, living in an atmosphere of monotonous vice.
In this emergency, being a person of intelligence, Jones fell back upon intellectual resources, and devoted himself, so far as his time would allow, to the collection of antiquities, and to the study of such of the numerous ruins of pre-Aztec cities and temples as lay within his reach. The longer he pursued these researches, the more did they fascinate his imagination. Therefore, when he chanced to hear that, on the farther side of the mountain, at a hacienda called Santa Cruz, there dwelt an Indian, Don Ignatio by name, the owner of the hacienda , who was reported to have more knowledge of the antiguos , their history and relics, than anybody else in this part of Mexico, he determined to visit him upon the first opportunity.
This, indeed, he would have done before, for Don Ignatio boasted an excellent reputation, had it not been for the length of the journey to his home. Now, however, the difficulty was lessened by an Indian who offered to point out a practicable path over the mountain, which brought the hacienda of Santa Cruz to within a three-hours' ride on mule-back from La Concepcion, in place of the ten hours that were necessary to reach it by the more frequented road. Accordingly, one day in the dry season, when work was slack at the mine, owing to the water having fallen too low to turn the crushing-mill, Jones started. This was on a Saturday, for on the Monday previous he had despatched a runner to Don Ignatio announcing his intended visit, and received in reply a most courteous and well-written letter, begging him to pass the next Sunday at the hacienda , "where any English gentleman would always be most welcome."
As he approached the hacienda , he was astonished to see the façade of an enormous white stone building of a semi-Moorish style of architecture, having towers and ornamented doorways at either end, and a large dome rising from the centre of its flat roof. Riding through the milpas , or corn-fields, and groves of cocoa and coffee bushes, all in a perfect state